The Philadelphia 76ers were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 74-69. For the Magic, it’s their sixth loss in eight games. Slowly but surely, Orlando is sinking into an abyss of irrelevance with each loss. Andre Iguodala led the way for the Sixers, putting up 14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, and two steals, further exemplifying that he is one of the most underrated players in the NBA with his ability to be a playmaker on offense while also being an elite defender. Evan Turner had 12 points and four rebounds, while Thaddeus Young had 10 points, three rebounds, and two steals. Dwight Howard had a game to forget for the Magic, finishing with 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting from the field (including 5-of-13 from the free-throw line), 11 rebounds, and two blocks. Ryan Anderson put together a sneaky double-double, finishing with 14 points and a career-high 20 rebounds. A decent chunk of Anderson’s numbers came in garbage time during the fourth quarter when the game was decided. Still, it’s rather telling that Anderson had as many offensive rebounds (11) as Howard had total rebounds in about 10 less minutes of playing time. J.J. Redick struggled mightily filling in for Jason Richardson at the starting shooting guard position, tallying 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting from the field alongside five rebounds.
Let’s just get this out of the way first.
Philadelphia won this game because they’re better than Orlando. It didn’t matter that Howard had an “advantage” at center or Anderson put up a flurry of points and rebounds after the game was essentially over by the 6:05 mark of the fourth quarter when the Sixers went on a 8-1 run to build a 17-point lead. Philadelphia had advantages at almost every position, in almost every facet of the game, and it’s no surprise that they came away with a victory.
Not to discredit the Sixers’ win but it’s not hard when nearly every player for the Magic isn’t trying, when head coach Stan Van Gundy is forced to trot out a second unit consisting of Larry Hughes, Von Wafer, Quentin Richardson, Earl Clark, and Glen Davis, and when players like Redick can’t hit a shot to save their life. All of the elements were there for Philadelphia to beat Orlando with relative ease, and they deserve all the credit in the world for getting the job done.
Nevertheless, a D-League team could have probably given the Magic a run for their money in tonight’s game.
That’s how bad it was for Orlando and if it wasn’t for them scoring in bunches late in the fourth quarter, they would have been lucky to score more than 56 points in the game (thus setting a new franchise-low for points scored in a game).
The Magic have problems that aren’t going to go away until Howard is inevitably traded. First, Howard isn’t trying right now. When you are, at your peak, a top-two player in the NBA (only LeBron James is better), you should be eating Tony Battie and Elton Brand alive when you’re matched up against them. Instead for Howard, he allowed Battie and Brand to bully him defensively. Not only that but in the fourth quarter, Howard put up a lazy lefty hook that got swatted away emphatically by Brand. The same Brand that has little lift and explosiveness in his legs at this stage of his career. It’s one thing to compete and lose. It’s another thing for a player of Howard’s caliber to waltz around the court, provide a sliver of effort, then pack up his bags and go home. It doesn’t matter if Howard wants to leave. It matters that Howard isn’t respecting himself, Van Gundy and the coaching staff for Orlando, or his teammates by giving an honest effort. You’d be hard-pressed to find people that don’t blame Howard for wanting to leave the Magic because general manager Otis Smith is incompetent at his job. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find people that’ll begin to criticize Howard if he keeps playing like he doesn’t care, because that’s what’s happening right now. Slowly but surely, Howard is sapping away the goodwill he has with the fans because he’s made it abundantly clear that he’s not going to keep his mouth shut, play, and try.
Howard is better than this.
Second, Orlando is bad right now. Outside of Howard, Anderson, Redick, and Hedo Turkoglu, the rest of the players on the roster aren’t good. Which means that the Magic’s margin of error is small in terms of winning games. And the margin for error gets even smaller when Howard isn’t playing anywhere near his max right now, players like Anderson and Redick are struggling with their shots, and players like Turkoglu don’t care.
If Howard doesn’t care, why should someone like Turkoglu?
Third, Howard’s voice as a leader means nothing at this point in time. It’s clearly showing on the court because again, if Howard doesn’t care, why should someone like Turkoglu? More and more, players for the Magic don’t care and they’re able to get away with it because there’s no one to hold them accountable. Van Gundy is powerless in this situation. It’d be different if Van Gundy could afford to bench a player for not caring. Yet when Van Gundy looks at the bench, sees players like Larry Hughes looking at him, to say that his options as a head coach are limited is putting it kindly. Van Gundy is in a bind right now.
For Orlando, as long as Howard is with the team, the situation is only going to get worse before it gets better. Howard needs to be traded, so all involved parties can move on.
If only the Magic weren’t hosting the All-Star Game this season. This nightmare could be over sooner rather than later.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.